Check Out Our Forgotten Jazz Classics Section

Some sections on our site are hard to find. Here’s one with lots of cool records in it:

Forgotten Jazz Classics

Here’s a typical entry:

George Benson – White Rabbit

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We recently conducted another extensive shootout for White Rabbit and it was a BLAST. It always is. Benson and his funky jazz all-stars buds (Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock and Airto to name a few) tear through some great material here, and on both sides of this copy the sound as KILLER.

If you want to hear the best George Benson record we know of, this is the one. The Grammy-winning Breezin’ from 1976 is a perfectly good album but it’s quite a bit more commercial than the earlier White Rabbit here from 1972, his first album to make the top ten on the jazz charts. (more…)

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Carlos Santana Knows: Louder Is Better

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Santana

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Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you TURN UP YOUR VOLUME.

This album needs to be played LOUD. I used to demonstrate that specific effect a few years ago when I found my first shockingly good Hot Stamper copy back in the late ’90s. I would play the first minute or so of track one at a pretty good level. There’s lots of ambience, there’s a couple of guys who shout things out, there’s a substantial amount of deep bass, and the whole recording has a natural smooth quality to it (which is precisely what allows you to play it at loud volumes).

Then I would turn it up a notch, say about 2-3 DB. I would announce to my friends that this is probably louder than you will ever play this record, but listen to what happens when you do. The soundstage gets wider and deeper, all those guys that shout can be heard more clearly, you start to really feel that deep bass, and when the song gets going, it REALLY gets going.

The energy would be fantastic.
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A Psych Masterpiece

More Spirit

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This is one of our favorite albums here at Better Records, and a true ’60s Psych Pop Masterpiece! The sound can be amazing as well, although you’d never know that listening to the average pressing. This copy gives you wall to wall width and layered studio depth like you will not believe, the kind of space you hear on engineering classics like Dark Side of the Moon and A Space in Time.

Fired Up

Want a glimpse into the kind of energy the band was generating in the studio? Drop the needle on Fresh Garbage, the opening track, and you will hear this band come alive in a way you probably never imagined you’d ever hear them. It’s positively startling how immediate and lively the sound is here.

This is the band at their best, fired up and ready to show the world that The Doors are not the only SoCal rock band with innovative ideas about rock music and the performing chops to pull them off, not to mention the studio wizards who managed to get it all down on tape with State-of-the-Art ’60s Rock sound quality.

The Doors Vs. Spirit

If I had to choose between The Doors’ first album and Spirit’s, say for a nice drive up the coast with the top down, no contest, Spirit would get the nod (not to take anything away from The Doors mind you). I had the album on 8 Track back in high school and played it to death. Doing this shootout, hearing the album sound so good after so many years, was nothing less than a THRILL. (I went right up to Amazon and bought a CD for the car. Might just take a drive up the coast.)
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Julie London Is a Knockout on Lonely Girl


More accurately, here is

Julie London on a Knockout Pressing of Lonely Girl

 

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  • A killer recording of female vocal with guitar: Triple Plus (A+++) on the first side, seriously good Double Plus (A++) on the second
  • Julie is in the room with you – intimate, breathy and Tubey Magical like practically nothing you’ve ever heard
  • For late night listening this is surely one of the best Sultry Female Vocal recordings ever made – you won’t believe how real the sound is
  • “Lone guitarist Al Viola plays gentle Spanish-tinged acoustic behind the hushed vocalist, and it suits London perfectly. While the singer was often chided for her beauty and lack of range, she deftly navigates these ballads without any rhythmic underpinnings to fall back on. London’s intense focus on phrasing and lyrics recalls Chet Baker’s equally telescopic approach.”

More Julie London

After hearing this amazing copy in our shootout we felt that it might be a bit too noisy to list, but another scrub cleaned it up nicely and now it’s about typical for an exceptionally clean copy of the album. No marks play — the noise one hears is mostly just the vinyl of the day.

I bought this very record in 1998. It took me close to twenty years to be able to clean it and play it right!

Side One

This side had breathy resolution that was hard to believe, along with size and immediacy that no other side of any copy could touch. It’s much richer and tubier than any other we played. Phenomenal.

Side Two

Not quite the equal of side one. Take some time to listen for the differences between the two sides and we’re sure you’ll hear what we heard. It is however exceptionally dynamic, always a nice quality to have. (more…)

Robin Black’s Two Engineering Masterpieces

More on THICK AS A BRICK

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Thick As A Brick is quite possibly the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Jethro Tull ever made. It’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and sweetness in the midrange; tubey-magical acoustic guitars and flutes; in other words, the record has EVERYTHING that we go crazy for here at Better Records. I can guarantee you there is no CD on the planet that could ever do this recording justice. The Hot Stamper pressings have a kind of MAGIC that just can’t be captured on one of them there silvery discs.

We play quite a few original British and domestic copies of this record when we do these shootouts and let me tell you, the sound and the music are so good I can’t get enough of it. Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me, anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings I had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes. But with the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages and the like, some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUNDING. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered it was.

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Mad Dogs, Englishmen and Copies with Bad Stampers

Wow, this is a crazy good copy!

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What to Listen For

The weaker copies have a tendency to sound smeary and congested. Listen for good transients and not too much compression. Many are also somewhat opaque as well as dull up top; try to find the ones with some degree of transparency and as much top end extension as you can (the percussion will be helped most of all by the extended top).

And of course you need to find a copy that rocks, as this is a definitely a Rock Concert, although what it most reminds me of is Ray Charles doing a choice set of modern pop classics, mixing it up by off-handedly throwing in a few hits of his own. See how they all fit together? That’s how the pros do it. (The main pro in this case is Leon Russell, the mastermind of the whole operation.)

Biggest Problems

Well, for one thing, if you get the wrong stampers on this record you will discover, as we did, that it’s clearly been mastered from a badly transferred dub tape. The “cassette-like” sound quality will not be hard to recognize. If you have stumbled onto one of those pressings, give up on it and try your luck elsewhere, making sure to note the bad stampers. That’s how we do it; there is in fact no other way. Trial and error is the name of the record hunting game.

All tracks were engineered by the legendary Eddie Kramer, then selected and mixed by the equally legendary Glyn Johns. (more…)

The Book of Hot Stampers

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I received this email a while back: “Hi Tom, could you please recommend a book which would give the stamper numbers associated with the different pressings of a particular record.”

Let me take this opportunity to give a more comprehensive answer, since the concept of Hot Stampers is not especially well understood by the audiophile community outside of our admittedly rather small customer base. Only those who have spent a great deal of time reading the reviews and commentary on the site are likely to understand the importance of stampers. This is partly my fault, as this issue of stamper variability and quality is spread out all over the place, exactly where, no one really knows.
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Santana – Inner Secrets

Our Killer White Hot Stamper copy!

 

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Just one of the  distinguished members of our Rock and Pop Hall of Fame that we’ve added recently (now 200+ strong!).

It’s also another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

What to Listen for

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets LOUDER in the mix than any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not. If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND.

What makes it possible to play this record so loud and still enjoy it? Simple. Just like Nirvana, when the sound is smooth and sweet, completely free of aggressive mids and highs, records get BETTER as they get LOUDER. (This of course assumes low distortion and all the rest, but the main factor is correct tonality from top to bottom, and this record has it.)

Jump Factor

There were about a half dozen different stampers for each side that we did the shootout with. Like other Hot Stampers you may have read about, sometimes the instruments and voices just JUMP out of the speakers. When that happens I usually write “It’s Alive!” on the post-it, and I know exactly what to do with it — it goes right in the Contender pile, to be compared with the other top contender copies. It’s definitely a crazy Hot Stamper; just how hot we still need to find out.

Which is what happens in Phase Two of these affairs. We go back through all the best copies to see in what areas they really shine and in what areas they may fall a bit short of the best. Occasionally a record will come along that just murders what I thought was the best.

Of course there’s no way to know what accounts for any of the sound we hear. Not for sure anyway. It’s just interesting to ponder what makes one record sound one way and the next record, with stampers as little as one letter off in the alphabet — sometimes with exactly the same stampers! — sound so different from one another.
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The Science of Hot Stampers – Incomplete, Imperfect, and (Gulp!) Provisional

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We have a section on the website you may have seen called We Was Wrong. This section is devoted to discussiing the records we think we got, uh, wrong.

Oh yes, it’s true. But it’s not really a problem for us here at Better Records. We see no need to cover up our mistakes. The process of learning involves recognizing and correcting previous errors. Approached scientifically, all knowledge — in any field, not just record collecting or music reproduction — is incomplete, imperfect, and must be considered provisional.

What seems true today might easily be proven false tomorrow. If you haven’t found that out for yourself firsthand yet, one thing’s for sure, you haven’t been in this hobby for very long.

We’re so used to the conventional wisdom being wrong, and having our own previous findings overturned by new ones, that we gladly go out of way in listing after listing to point out just how wrong we were. (And of course why we think we are correct now.)

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Bad Santana LPs

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This is one of the MoFi LPs we’ve reviewed on the site. This MoFi link will take you to reviews of more than 90 more.

We also have a Hall of Shame for bad sounding records such as these. It currently has 250 members but could easily have double that if someone wanted to take the time to make entries for all the bad audiophile pressings we’ve played over the years. (That person would have to be me and I don’t want to do it.)

Santana is a record we admit to having liked a bit when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. As embarrassing as it may be, clearly We Was Wrong.

It’s just too damn compressed and lifeless. The Whomp Factor on this pressing is Zero. Since whomp is critical to the sound of Santana’s music, it’s Game Over for us. The review below is exactly what we wrote at the time the record came in. We tried to like it, but it’s clear to us now that we tried to like it too hard. Please accept our apologies.

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